Friday, January 21, 2005

Fisher on gentrification

In his latest Metro column in the Post Marc Fisher takes a look at the ongoing gentrification of the District and how the city is trying to balance the explosion of the housing market with the needs of lower income residents. While Fisher gives high marks to the D.C. Housing Authority for how its managed this balancing act he notices that there is one big, looming problem that can halt the progress being made: schools.
And as refreshing as it is to see new life in some of the city's poorest sections, the turnaround will prove illusory if the city doesn't dramatically improve its schools.

Henson Ridge's success depends on attracting families, and that's why the project always included a new library, community center and school. But the D.C. school system failed to replace Turner Elementary.

School board member William Lockridge says it was a money problem and the new school will rise by 2006. Housing officials aren't so sure.

Near the Southeast Federal Center, the authority plans to replace 700 units of abysmal public housing with a community that includes 700 market rate units and 900 of public housing. Private developers will pay much of the costs, including those for a new school.

Again, the school system has proven incapable of making even sweet deals. Lockridge says it's not incompetence: "It's in the pipeline," he says. "These projects take a long time."

The city is moving to replace the violence-plagued Sursum Corda project near North Capitol Street, but the school system seems unable to revive adjacent Walker-Jones Elementary, where only 27 percent of the students read at grade level.

The housing end of Mayor Tony Williams's goal of building homes for 100,000 new residents seems realistic. But the city cannot build a thriving middle class without good schools.

It's tempting to see each revolution of the turnstile in the superintendent of schools' office as comical. But it is downright tragic that this city's forward motion is limited by schools that should fill us all with shame.
DC residents have the among highest tax burden in the nation, and the prospect of having to pay private school tuition on top of such high taxes has and will continue to drive middle class parents out of the District.

Mark Lerner has some thoughts on this topic as well.

UPDATE: As does A Constrained Vision.

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